OAKLAND, CALIF. – Torii Hunter hadn’t officially turned 40 yet, but on Friday he talked about playing at 41.
“I knew late last year that I could play one more year,” Hunter said. “And now, I can play another.”
What’s that, Torii?
“The way I feel right now, I can play another year,” Hunter said.
Then Hunter pointed up and said, “but it’s up to them.”
Them would be the Twins, who have allowed Hunter to show that 40 is the new 30 this year but also have ushered in a wave of young players that could form the core of the team for years. Could Hunter return in the same role next season or would he have to relinquish some more games? Will the Twins eye an outfield of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks?
First things first. The Twins opened a six-game road trip on Friday night against the Oakland Athletics. And Hunter is nervous about hitting the big 4-0 on Saturday.
He’s not worried about the number, more about what his teammates might have in store for him when he enters the visitors’ clubhouse on Saturday at the O.co Coliseum.
“It’s scary, because they keep looking at me and laughing,” Hunter said. “I know me. I would get somebody if they are turning 40.”
Saturday will mark 40 years since Torii Kedar Hunter entered this world in Pine Bluff, Ark., and he’s still playing baseball at a high level.
There’s not a better illustration of that than the 426-foot homer he hit down the left field line last Saturday that landed in the third deck in Target Field in the Twins’ second-to-last game before the All-Star break, a 9-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
It’s not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years. And Hunter has brought plenty of life to a clubhouse that needed it.
The Twins will celebrate that Saturday while they have fun with the old man on the team.
“We’ve got something planned,” second baseman Brian Dozier said.
When asked about what kind of gifts Hunter could receive, reliever Casey Fien said: “Maybe some Ensure, some man diapers. I don’t know. Maybe steal something from [pitching coach] Neil Allen’s locker and put it in there.”
Hunter is the second-oldest position player in the major leagues. The oldest is 41-year-old Ichiro Suzuki, and he’s a part-timer with the Miami Marlins. Hunter starts in right field — his defense not as strong as it once was, when he was winning nine Gold Gloves as a center fielder — and has been a key cog in the Twins lineup.
He played in 80 of 89 games before the All-Star break, batting .257 with 14 home runs and 49 RBI. That put him on pace to hit 25 home runs — the most since he hit 28 in 2007, his last year of his first stint with the Twins.
“I’ve been really, really pleased,” manager Paul Molitor said before Hunter had two singles Friday night. “It’s just a lot of production. Good at-bats. When you hit him second, he knows what to do there as far as taking pitches and using the whole field. And he can still ambush a fastball.”
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan pointed out that Hunter’s former Twins teammates LaTroy Hawkins, 42, and A.J. Pierzynski, 38, continue to be productive as they become men of a certain age as well.
“Nobody plays that length of time at that high of a caliber as a norm,” Ryan said. “This is not normal, what they are doing.”
Hunter sticks to a gluten-free diet and specializes his workouts to focus on flexibility and core strength. It has allowed him to age gracefully.
He is lending experience to younger players while putting up numbers to back up his message.
“He’s like, ‘Let’s go out and play some baseball today, see where it takes us,’ ” Fien said. “That’s a cool thing to watch.”
And, if things work out, the Twins can watch Hunter share his wisdom beyond 2015.